Richard Neutra, VDL Research House I / II, 1932/1966, 2300 Silver Lake Blvd, Los Angeles

Located in proximity of the popular Silver Lake, the house benefits from a tranquil and nature-bound location inside the city. [1]
The VDL house is named after Richard Neutra’s Dutch benefactor, Dr. Van der Leeuw. At the same time, the building is an embodiment of the architectural perception of his architect. The architectural concept combines living with working space in one building serving as the residence and office of Austrian-born architect.

Richard and Dion Neutra VDL Research House II, 2300 Silver Lake Blvd. Silver Lake

VDL House, via Wikimedia Commons

The VDL Research House (I) was the first architecture which Neutra conceived after his return from Europe in 1931 [2]. European influences are obvious: Neutra, who had worked for the Austrian Werkbund in Vienna the same year, was strongly inspired by the Dutch industrial architecture of Brinkman & Van der Flugt. The two architects of the Rotterdam Van Nelle Fabriek had been employed by the Van der Leeuw-family [3]. Their avant-gardist concept of space permits daylight to flood into the factory building. A continuous filmstrip-like window penetrates the facade and allows the sunlight to brightly illuminate the inner space of the building.

Rotterdam van nelle fabriek

Van Nelle Fabric, via Wikimedia Commons

This parallelism is often interpreted as an honouring gesture of Neutra to C.H. Van der Leeuw who advanced a considerable sum to the architect so that he could build his house. [4] According to certain sources, Van der Leeuw was horrified after visiting Neutra’s former residence in Echo Park. So he pulled out his check-book and wrote down a sum of $3000 as an inducement to build a new, more suitable home. [5] Neutra completed the remaining sum to cover the total costs of $8000. [6] The VDL Studio and Residences (I and II) comprise in fact of three phases of construction: The first original constructing phase of 1932, a second phase of 1939 – 1944 in which a smaller construction the garden or guest house, and the rooftop ’solarium‘ were added. [7] The third (re)construction phase became necessary because of a devastating fire in 1963 which broke out in absence of Richard Neutra. The house burnt down to its foundation. Luckily the construction and soil of the ground floor was made of concrete beams with suspended floor structures which prevented the fire from burning through right into the cellar where the essential archive of Neutra’s work was located. [8]

On a lot of 18 x 21 m, the VDL Research House occupies a space of 214m² spreading over three floors. The H-shaped building consists of two parallel main buildings, a private building and a guest house. As an attachment, a narrow connecting building is placed between them which include a rarely used room and two children bedrooms. The free space between the two main buildings was used as an enclosed patio garden. The ground floor of the private tract was mostly used as an office including rooms for the secretary and employers. The first floor was where the private rooms were located. [9] The bright, former known as ‘solarium’ completes the building with a third floor. Over time it was converted into an ordinary bright room. [10]

A special feature of the building is the use of new materials, for example aluminum, rock wool, solid insulation boards, [11] cork floors, e.g.. They were sponsored and produced according to Neutra’s demands. [12] He also imitated materials: Neutra tried, for example, to evoke the effects of steel construction which was too expensive to afford. He used painted wooden frames instead of steel window frames. The wooden frames were joined continuously like a filmstrip and were fitted with steel windows to achieve the desired visual effect of the modern European steel constructions. Other remarkable features of the house were sliding steel doors saving indoor space. The functional modern European aesthetics was quite uncommon by that time in the U.S. For Neutra, it included theoretical aspects as well. He investigated the aesthetic or sensual effect of the combination and apparition of materials in building. He also meditated or the benefits of architecture for the human-being by involving nature in the planning and realization of architectural landscapes. [13]

Barbara Lamprecht describes the sensual effects of the VDL House as follows: The characteristics and the combination of the used materials, rooms painted in dark and silver tones and the low sill height affect the sensual perception with lustrous moments which evoke a unique so-called ‚honeymoon experience‘. [14]

VDL studio staircase

VDL House, via Wikimedia Commons

Neutra used illusionist elements like mirrors or glass panels to enlarge the space and play with the theoretical contrast pair of inside and outside. [15] He focused on creating an innovative and experimental kind of a residence combined with an office. The architecture should be flexible to adapt to varying circumstances like the changing constellations of the inhabiting families. [16] The interior of the building with its built-in furniture was conceived to be offer a maximum of functionality and to be easily maintained – perhaps another tribute to the Werkbund colonies. A residence which offers his inhabitants such flexibility and function-oriented comfort seems obviously familiar to the 1920’s/1930’s Werkbund and Neues Wohnen movements. Acting in a time with economic and social grievances, politicians and architects began to build small but functional and affordable residences in colonies for the middle and lower class to stop their exclusion from the social and economic system. [17] Neutras articles were also often featured in the journals “Die Form” and “Das Neue Frankfurt”. They delivered information on those modernist movements including topics of architecture and design. Neutra surely applied the modernist aesthetics not only because of his low budget, but also as a proponent of the idea of functionality and flexibility in architecturally enclosed space. [18]

Author: Begüm Inal

[1]Lamprecht, Barbara, Richard Neutra. 1892-1970. Gestaltung für ein besseres Leben, Köln 2016, p. 29

[2]Hines, Thomas S., Architecture of the Sun. Los Angeles Modernism 1900-1970, New York 2010, p. 367

[3]Hines 2010, p. 367

[4]Lamprecht 2016, p. 29

[5]Hines 2010, p. 367

[6]Lamprecht 2016, p. 29

[7]http://www.neutrahistory.org/home/what-is-this-building (10.3.2017)

[8]Lamprecht 2016, p. 30f

[9] Lamprecht 2016, p. 29f

[10]http://www.neutra-vdl.org/site/about-04.asp?31120177853 (7.3.2017)

[11]Lamprecht 2016, p. 31

[12]Hines 2010, p. 368

[13]Lamprecht 2016, p. 30f

[14]Lamprecht 2016, p. 31

[15]Lamprecht 2016, p.31

[16]Hines 2010, p. 370

[17]Landmann, Ludwig. Zum Geleit, in: Das Neue Frankfurt 1 (1926), p. 1f

[18]Hines 2010, p. 370

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